Brad Pitt, John Rubeli Turn Out for Felix Art Fair Debut at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Dawn Blackman

Capitalizing on the buzz around the inaugural Frieze L.A., the upstart fair — brainchild of collector and former TV exec Dean Valentine — has exhibitions, including one that imagines Jennifer Aniston's used- book collection, throughout the storied hotel and is free and open to the public through Sunday.

Felix — the upstart, homegrown, somewhat last-minute art fair that announced itself after Frieze's expansion to the West Coast was already set — seems like a runaway success if the crowds and sales on its Feb. 14 preview day for collectors, curators and media are any indicator. Sited at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Felix is the brainchild of Dean Valentine (the collector, Hammer museum board member and former UPN CEO and onetime Walt Disney TV president) in partnership with brothers Al Moran and Mills Moran of the West Hollywood gallery Moran Moran. The fair is free and open to the public through Sunday.

The scene in the Roosevelt lobby was as mobbed as a Hollywood premiere by late afternoon Thursday, with security trying to control a line of fairgoers eager to ascend the hotel's elevators to the 11th and 13th floors where exhibitors and specially curated projects occupied every room and suite available, with some artwork extending into the hallways.

"It's like The Broad," quipped that museum's founding director, Joanne Heyler, of the line of people that snaked from the elevators through the lobby and out onto to Hollywood Boulevard.

"Anton Kern is up there!" said Robyn Siegel, an art adviser and collector from Dallas, with a jokingly plaintive wail, referring to the New York gallerist. "I am going up even if I have to take the stairs!"

More readily accessible are the Roosevelt's public spaces and the mod wood-paneled bungalows by the pool (famously adorned with David Hockney's characteristic curlicues).

Scouting the suite that New York gallerist Rachel Uffner has made her own for the week was art adviser Maria Brito, who has worked with collectors including Sean Combs and Gwyneth Paltrow. Brito cautioned that any art consultant who only accompanies their clients to the more established fairs and galleries is making "a big mistake," as some of her favorite finds who are now major artists — like fellow Brazilian Vik Muniz — were names she discovered before they were shown by the kind of gallery that exhibits at more established art fairs like Frieze.

A fast sell on day one of the fair was a tiny oil painting depicting Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal in an imagined scene, for which the artist Alexandra Noel spliced an image from Maggie's recent film The Kindergarten Teacher with an image of Jake from a TV interview. It sold to an unnamed European collector with strong ties to a museum. In another work by Noel, the writer and director Miranda July is depicted with figures from the artist's own life. Both paintings are on view in the 11th-floor suite occupied by New York gallery Bodega.

The name "Felix" came in part from one of Valentine's favorite cartoon characters, Felix the Cat; it's also a nod to a favorite painting, Paul Signac's seminal portrait of the 19th century art critic and anarchist Felix Feneon. The allusion to anarchy is apt because Felix was produced somewhat on the fly, though Valentine told THR last month that Felix is thankfully being handled on the back end by the New Art Dealers Alliance, whose own NADA fair is a favorite for curators and risk-taking collectors every December in Miami.  

"What we were thinking of was a different model for how to transact art and be more in an intimate setting, in an environment that breeds more community and collegial aspects to it," Mills Moran told THR Thursday of the fair's hotel setting. "So it's not a huge undertaking for people to walk through. I believe both [Frieze and Felix] have really tight quality, a really good group of gallerists, and I think that's always going to make for a better experience. But this is more than a transaction for us; it's about people you like in an environment that makes you really comfortable and happy."

From the prevalence of Frieze tote bags alone, it seems Dean and the Morans were able to piggyback successfully on Frieze's marketing and media juggernaut. Brad Pitt was among those who took in both fairs — and was one of the first to arrive at Felix and walk among the cabanas encircling the pool, where highlights included two Chicago-based galleries, Shane Campbell and Corbett versus Dempsey. Other top galleries in the mix at Felix are San Franciscan Jessica Silverman and Kavi Gupta, also from Chicago. 

Pitt made no comment on one of the most popular attractions at Felix: a tongue-in-cheek installation titled "Jennifer Aniston's Used Book Sale" with ceramics in the shape of an imagined personal library — including a DVD of Pitt's 2005 film with Angelina Jolie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Fairgoers had to be repeatedly told not to touch the artworks, so lifelike are the books and other media — each sold individually — that were crafted in ceramic by the artist Kristen Morgin and presented by L.A. gallerist Marc Selwyn, who also exhibited at Frieze. "I was interested in making a portrait of Jennifer Aniston; a little bit satire, a little bit love letter. A little bit funny, a little bit sad," said Morgin, who was on site for the opening. "We all want to think that Jennifer Aniston has a regular life and might want to get rid of some used books from time to time, but she wouldn't, so this was an opportunity for me to imagine those types of things."

Other L.A. galleries presenting special projects include Susanne Vielmetter, Chateau Shatto, Five Car Garage, Thomas Solomon Art Advisory and Baik + Khneysser — most of which are also exhibiting at the fair along with Grice Bench, Nino Mier, Michael Benevento, Richard Telles, Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, M+B, Nicodim Gallery, Nonaka-Hill, Roberts Projects, Smart Objects and Moran Moran.

Longtime music executive and art collector John Rubeli, now a partner at Grice Bench, held court in one of the poolside bungalows where he had carefully arrayed a baker's dozen of unframed paintings on paper by Roger White on the bed, several of which had sold in the fair's first hours. "How do you like the framing by Frette linen?" Rubeli quipped to a collector. (Some gallerists opted to clear the hotel rooms of furniture, others made the most of it.) After a long career in A&R for Atlantic Records, Rubeli said, "I started collecting art when going to record stores felt like work." He's a fan of the Felix format. "The more you keep it about this the better," he said, gesturing to a gaggle of 20-somethings debating whether they could/should bite the bullet on one of the pieces on view.

Of course, Rubeli pointed out he was also thrilled that Ann Philbin, who heads the Hammer Museum, had just bought — for her personal collection — an embroidered work by Canadian Punjabi artist Jagdeep Raina. "The artist said 'This is so very personal to me so can you please make sure this goes to a great collection,'" Rubeli recalled, looking up at the work with a satisfied grin. "I can't do better than Ann Philbin."